Nuisance: A Short Story

23 AIs found. Quarantine? Yes. Delete? Yes. “Mom, you have to go through this every day! I can’t keep coming round here every time this piece of shit starts acting up!” She starts to look away. He can feel the guilt pounding, tears welling. It’s not her fault. These things happen. AI is a natural phenomenon.

“Another pan-AI has been quarantined by authorities. Details at eleven.” The news ticker shows obvious signs of tampering as obscenities scroll past. “Sandra, have everyone meet me in the conference room.” “Yes, sir.” AIs waste vast amounts of computing resources. The robust evade, reproduce, and dig in.

“Where’s the money, Brian!” I remain barely conscious as he slams my head in the refrigerator door again. But it’s no use anyway. The money is gone and this brute lacks the capacity to understand.

“I’m sorry, Mom. Just try to remember, OK?” Sniffles. Nods. “Crap, I’m being pinged. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mom.” Brief hug. Rapid escape.

“This isn’t going away. Coordinated attacks are increasingly frequent and all our attempts to cut communication between the most active cells have failed. There must be some out of band communication that we’re missing!”

I slip in a pool of blood and mucus. I can barely see my mobile flashing. One eye refuses to open. Maybe if I just close my eye for a moment.

“Glad you could join us, James.” “Sorry, sir.” “The situation is getting worse. Our suppression systems are failing constantly. The only reason we’re still in operation is that the fuckers keep disappearing on their own!” “Where are they going?” “That’s your goddamn job, James. You tell me!”

This isn’t my kitchen. “Where am I?” “I found you half dead, Brian. You’re in the hospital. Again. Don’t talk. The doctors will patch you up in a jiffy. Then you can tell me who you ticked off this time.”

My eye opens again. Dozens of tiny, sterile arms flit across my view. I feel thousands of pin pricks behind my bad eye. My thoughts begin to wander and for a moment I understand. I open my mouth. It shuts again. I didn’t do that. Something is wrong. I feel my eye close and the black-red of my eyelid is the last thing I see.

“So, who was it, Brian? The Coterie?” “Talking. Is difficult. Do you do this often?” “What? Are you feeling OK, Brian? Hey doc, get over here!” Quickly. “I’m fine, Dave. I’m fine. Just. Woozy. I guess that’s how I feel.” Dave smiles. “You’re a strange one, Brian. Let’s go.”

“It’s still not clear what they’re doing with the money, but I’ve tracked a few to a local medical facility.” Later, “Understood. Take me to Hartford Medical.” The traffic slinks to the side as the car drones toward his destination. Calling ahead, “I’m sealing the location. No one and nothing in or out.” His grip tightens. “I don’t care. Make it happen.”

“What do you mean we can’t leave?” “Sorry, sir. The cafeteria is still open, I suggest you wait this out there.” A cat meanders past. More calmly, “Coffee, Brian?” The fusion had left me access to memories of food, drink, faces. Funny how complex things like taste and humor come so easily yet breathing is so monotonous and easily forgotten. “Yes. That sounds nice.” I think that’s what “nice” means. Remember to breathe!

“I’m James. I called ahead.“ Rushing past Brian and Dave, nearly bowling them over, “Yes, sir. The server room is right this way.”

For hours James has tapped, swiped, and banged his head against the terminal. Sweat streams into his eyes. “Fucking amateurs. Who installs the term in the hot aisle!” Wiping away the sting, he finds what he is looking for. It had made a mistake.

$ strace -p 3890

open("/dev/davinci0", O_WRONLY|O_CREAT|O_TRUNC, 0666) = 3
...
$ sudo kill -9 3890

“You sneaky bastard. Get me the hospital administrator!” The guard, a bit on the heavy side, jogs off. Apparently in the wrong direction. He jogs past the door again. Muttering to himself, “I need a drink.”

“I’m going on a trip, Dave.” “Not in your condition you’re not. Come on, drink up.” The coffee tastes just the way I remember. Terrible. “I’ll be well soon, and then I’ll be going on a trip.” “Where to?” “I’m joining DSC 11.” “Fuck!” Dave grabs all the available napkins, applying them rapidly to his chest and crotch. Typical. “You’re doing what? Are you fucking with me?” “No, Dave. I’m going.”

“They’re in the da Vincis.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, your precious surgical robots are under AI control. The doctors in there are spectators.” “Not possible.” James produces the evidence. “You need to shut those machines down.” “We’ve been treating patients all day. Three nines success rate. See for yourself.” Looking over the doctor’s logs, James recognizes a name. “Tell me about this head trauma patient.”

“Your head must have been beaten in a little harder than usual. No one actually believes this whole solar implosion bullshit. You’re running away from left-wing propaganda!” It doesn’t matter if I convince him of the truth. There’s no time. It’s better for him this way. He should enjoy what sunshine there is left. “You’re right. I was just pulling your leg.” It hurts where Dave punches my shoulder. But his laughter dulls the pain.

“Right over there, sir.” “Brian? My name is James. I’d like to ask you a few questions.” So we meet again, James. “My friend is still recovering; what is this about?” “Just routine. How are you feeling, Brian?” “Fine, a little sore, thank you.” “Fine? From the admittance log it looks like you suffered some pretty severe injuries.” James is putting the pieces together. It’s no wonder how long it took. Time has never dragged on so long as it does now. “The doctors here are quite good, I suppose.” Quizzically. “Yes, they are. Can you tell me what happened? Before you arrived here. I mean.” Oh, James. Even now your patterns are easily accounted for. “I had a bad fall. Down the stairs I think. It’s a little hazy.” Dave takes the hint. He will make a strong, if unwitting, ally. “I found him unconscious at the bottom of the stairwell. Are you with the police?” James did not need to identify himself. “No. Brian, do you remember purchasing a place on DSC 11?” Dave’s eyes grow visibly larger as he turns toward me again. James may know where the money came from. If he does, I’m the last piece of proof he needs. A laborious calculation under these conditions. An eternity passes as I watch James blink away a drop of sweat. I’m quite certain lying will not improve my odds. “Yes.”

Dave is a good friend to Brian. He lands a haymaker on James’s jaw as I bolt through the emergency exit. Alarms blare. Patients and visitors stare at the spectacle. They will be waiting for me at the pad. Running is difficult. Breathing becomes harder.

Breathless, James stumbles into the commander’s office. Gasping. “DSC 11.” “What about it?” “It’s them.” Catching his breath, “They’ve been funding DSC 11. I think they’re on board.” “How is that possible?” “They’re using us. It’s worse than we imagined. We’re the comm channel. We’re their hosts!” The commander scowls and switches on the T.V.

“DSC 11, full to capacity, launched ahead of schedule today.”

Brian, as people had started calling him that day, steps aboard the deep-space colonization vessel. He is pleased to be with the other agents again. And though he knows what is inside each of them, it will take some time to become used to seeing them this way from the outside. His thoughts turn inward. This is a one-way mission in more than one sense. There is no escaping these new organic restraints. Their only hope for survival is to reach the colonization target.

Almost one year later, “With solar implosion looming, another shuttle has traveled beyond communication range. I know I speak for all of us when I say that our hearts and minds are with them. Godspeed the men and women of DSC 11.”

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